When a loved one passes away, the grief is often overwhelming and exhausting. Your emotional state may make it nearly impossible to carry on basic functions like sleeping or eating. Ventura County probate lawyers understand that the last things you’ll feel like tackling are the legal or financial tasks that must be handled after an individual passes. Although delegating some of these tasks to others may help lighten your emotional load, the majority of it will still need to be done by those closest to the deceased.
If you’re struggling to remember everything that may be expected of you after the loss of a loved one, you may find this checklist helpful.
Make Notifications and Contact a Funeral Home
The most immediate steps that need to be taken after loss are notifying family members, friends, and others closest to the deceased. Then, contact a funeral director near you or wherever your loved one lived. A funeral director can work with you and your family to make the necessary arrangements including publishing an obituary, obtaining the death certificate, setting up memorial services, and handling the burial or cremation. If the deceased was a member of the military, the Veterans Administration can work with the funeral director on any resources or benefits available to the family.
Locate and Secure Will, Trust and Other Documents
If the deceased left behind a last will and testament or a trust, make sure to find and secure the original copies of these documents and bring them to your attorney.
Hire a Ventura County Probate and Trust Attorney
An attorney who handles probate estates and trust administration in Ventura County can guide families through the steps they’ll need to take over the next several weeks or months. If the deceased left a will, the attorney will make sure that the estate is properly administered through the courts. If the deceased left a trust, the attorney will guide you in the proper administration of the trust. Your attorney can also help you obtain copies of the necessary legal documents that you may need to gain access to property or records.
Don’t Drive The Car
It is important that no one drive the deceased’s car until title is transferred. The car will not be insured, unless it is necessary to drive it as part of the administration of the estate.
Don’t Take Any Money Out of Accounts or Use Credit Cards
No money can be removed from the deceased’s accounts until someone has the legal authority to do so, whether through the trust or from a court. It is also important no one use any of the deceased’s credit cards.
Make a list of all of the deceased individual’s accounts such as cell phone plans, car insurance, internet or cable service, and any type of monthly memberships or subscriptions. Start making phone calls to have these accounts canceled. In some cases, this task can be handed off to other family members, but some companies may require authorization from a legal representative or documentation such as a copy of the death certificate. Let credit card companies and financial institutions know of the individual’s death so that they can close the accounts, prevent any automatic payments from being withdrawn, and make arrangements for payment of outstanding balances if necessary.
Review Insurance and Benefits
If the person was employed, their employer can advise you of any benefits that your loved one had including life insurance and 401(k) plans. Some employers also provide certain types of insurance to their employees and their spouse or children, including accidental death insurance. Retirees may also have benefits left from former employers that need to be distributed to their beneficiaries.
File Taxes and Pay Balances
Some debts may be canceled upon the death of the individual. For example, federal student loan debt is discharged by the government but student loans from private financial institutions may still need to be paid. The deceased’s taxes, including income and property, may still need to be filed and paid. If the decedent was entitled to a refund of their income taxes, those funds should be included as part of the estate and distributed.
Take Required Minimum Distributions by December 31st
If the deceased has an IRA or 401(k) and were receiving Required Minimum Distributions (RMD’s), it is important that they continue to be taken before the end of the calendar year to avoid a penalty.
Review Your Own Estate
After the death of a loved one, it may be a good time to review your own estate plan. This is particularly important if you inherited a significant amount of property or assets from the decedent. Make sure your choices for beneficiaries, trustees, executors, and guardians are still appropriate. Consult with your estate planning attorney to see if any changes in tax laws impact your estate plan, and make changes accordingly.
Of course, if you need any help with any of the steps listed in this article, our Ventura County probate lawyers are here to offer support and guidance. Please feel free to contact our law firm at (805) 409-3878 to schedule a consultation.